Vodacom Foundation pioneers social transformation through education

The Vodacom Foundation is emulating Madiba’s legacy by pioneering social transformation through education

Umbilo Teacher Centre in Umbilo, KwaZulu-Natal: learners Nikitha Shongwe and Qaphela Nogcantsi with Youth Academy instructor Zamokuhle Buthelezi and Takalani Netshitenzhe, chief officer: corporate affairs for Vodacom Group
Umbilo Teacher Centre in Umbilo, KwaZulu-Natal: learners Nikitha Shongwe and Qaphela Nogcantsi with Youth Academy instructor Zamokuhle Buthelezi and Takalani Netshitenzhe, chief officer: corporate affairs for Vodacom Group
Image: Supplied

This year is momentous in South Africa’s history as it is the centenary of our beloved Madiba’s birth. It is a solemn moment, as it provides us with the opportunity to reflect on the advances we have made in continuing Madiba’s legacy towards building the South Africa he dreamt of.

To mark this historic occasion – named “Be the Legacy” by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, we must grapple with the vital question: what are we doing to emulate Madiba’s efforts to improve the world?

Vodacom was founded in 1994 as the winds of democracy were blowing everywhere in SA. That was also the year Madiba was sworn in as South Africa’s first democratically elected president, hence Tata holds a very special place at Vodacom.

In his seminal work and moving memoir Faith & Courage: Praying with Mandela, (Tafelberg, 2017), author Archbishop Thabo Makgoba encapsulates the vision and Madiba’s legacy when he says: “His vision was for a free, democratic, non-racial world in which we are afforded equal opportunities and are freed from poverty, marginalisation and disempowerment.”

No country can really develop unless its citizens are educated
Nelson Mandela

Within this prism, Vodacom is doing its utmost to contribute towards Madiba’s dream of a democratic society where poverty and inequality are eliminated and there is a better life for all. For more than 19 years, Vodacom, via the Vodacom Foundation, has contributed to social development using information and communication technology (ICT) through investments that resonate with the values that Tata stood for, such as fighting hunger, poverty and gender-based violence.

“No country can really develop unless its citizens are educated. Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” Inspired by these words of wisdom from Madiba, we have sought to invest in our society through our work in education. Similar to the view of Horace Mann, the US education reformer, we at Vodacom believe that education is the great equaliser in any society.

Given the critical role of education in achieving equality, we have invested a greater part of the Vodacom Foundation budget in education and training – more than R350-million in education in partnership with the Department of Basic Education since 2008.

We also recently made a firm commitment to invest a further R300-million in the next five years. Most of the funds are used for bursaries for university students, e-learning and renovating, equipping and maintaining teacher centres that serve as district hubs for continuous ICT training for teachers and youth. In addition, we have connected more than 3,000 schools across the country.

We led the way with e-learning in South Africa through our e-school learning platform, launched in 2014. Vodacom e-school is a secure online learning platform with free internet access to the department's curriculum for all Grade R to 12 learners, with more than 380,000 learners registered. The award-winning portal is a crucial part of digitising school content in South Africa and a key component in our quest to become South Africa’s leading digital company.

Our vision for learning and development takes a comprehensive approach to education informed by the eradication of the access barriers to communication. It’s focused on developing digitally literate teachers, fostering societal respect for learners and, most importantly, reducing the scourge of stunting. All this can only be achieved through collaboration with partners in the education ecosystem led by the Department of Basic Education.

Takalani Netshitenzhe, chief officer: corporate affairs for Vodacom Group
Takalani Netshitenzhe, chief officer: corporate affairs for Vodacom Group
Image: Supplied

To respond specifically to the challenge of youth unemployment, we continue to provide ICT skills training to hundreds of unemployed youth so that they are eligible for employment after graduating. To complement this programme, in 2017, the Vodacom Foundation partnered with the Innovator Trust, a company created by Vodacom through a R750-million investment solely for small business development.

This partnership is aimed at offering business skills to some of the Vodacom Youth Academy graduates who wish to be entrepreneurs. The Foundation also launched a youth volunteer programme where young men and women were placed with non-profit organisations to contribute to social upliftment through the use of ICT.

We plan to accelerate our interventions in education in the coming years with more social partners in order to enable young people to enjoy the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Madiba said: “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farmworkers can become the president of a great nation.”

This article was paid for by Vodacom Foundation.

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